Monday, May 9, 2011

Fit Tuesday ~ Low Impact Cardio & Knee Problems

Q: I love your blog-what's the likelihood you could do a Fit Tuesday post on a good low-impact workout? I too have bad knees (and some other stuff) that make high intensity workouts challenging. That might be a great way for me to get back into a routine!
Thank you for the question, Mommy Moxie!

A: My friend, welcome to the "bad knee" club!! I have some troubled knees as well! I am going to tell you about some low-impact workouts as well as home care. Let's get to it! 

1. Swim laps!! Swimming is one of the very best workouts for your body!! Honestly. It takes a little more work as far as protecting your hair from the chlorine and all, but it's so worth it! Swimming works just about every muscle in your body. Also, you can do it at your pace. The water provides perfect resistance and you can choose your speed. I suggest switching up your strokes. Basic breast stroke, back stroke, etc.* Even if you aren't a "swimmer" per se, you can get a great workout by swimming laps the way you know how!
*butterfly stroke may cause pain

Tips for swimming laps:
  • Wear a one-piece. this is not the time to try to be sexy. Invest in a comfortable, one-piece swimming suit that you can really move in. 
  • Swimming cap. like I said, this isn't going to be your sexiest workout, but the results will be! Actually, as a black woman who chemically straightens my hair, when I was swimming laps daily, I would wet my hair and put conditioner in it underneath my cap. This helped protect my hair from the daily exposure to chlorine, since water is bound do get into your cap, of course. 
  • Pack a bag with all of your shower essentials. If you are swimming in the a.m., you want to have your clothes for the day as well as hair products, make-up, and any other items you use to get prepared for the day.
  • If you don't know how to swim, team up with a friend and head to the pool for some lessons. OR go to your local aquatic or recreational center and take a basic swimming course. Usually they are affordable.
  • Now swim, girl! Do it! 
2. Elliptical or walking. This depends on how bad your knees are. Some people aren't ready for even this level of impact. However, if you are, get outside and take some walks or head to the gym and hop on the elliptical trainer. There are several types. 
  • Caution: hills or steep inclines put a lot of pressure on your knees! If you have knee problems avoid hilly walks or high inclines on the elliptical or treadmill. 
  • Walking is a fun workout to do with a friend or two! Keep yourselves at a brisk pace, but you should also be able to enjoy some conversation. This makes the workout more fun and it goes by much faster! On the elliptical try your headphones if you don't have a friend to chat with on the next machine.
  • NEVER go walking alone at night!
3. Cycling or Spinning. Go for rides on your bike. Always wear your helmet! :) Once your knees are a little stronger, go ahead and take some spinning classes. You may have to modify the workout a bit, but you can probably do it. 

Preventing knee injuries:
  1. Keep muscles around knees strong- hamstrings, quadriceps, etc. Wall sits are great for this!! Stand with your back against the wall and slide down until your knees are at a 90* angle. Sit for about 2 minutes in that position, and do it 2-3 times. Do not let your knees go beyond your feet. 
  2. It is just as important to strengthen hips, core and back.
  3. STRETCH before and after exercise! Especially afterwards. 
  4. If you run regularly, buy new shoes every 3 months or 500 miles.
  5. If you are a beginner with weightlifting and working out, invest in spending a few sessions with an athletic trainer to learn proper technique. This may be the most important tip in preventing any injuries during exercise!!

Exercises to AVOID:
  1. Jumping- it forces 2-3x your body weight on your knees! If your knees cause you pain during exercise you absolutely want to cease activity that require jumping {i.e. basketball, tennis, soccer, racquetball, football}. However, if your knees are on the more stable side of being painful {this is something only you can really determine} jumping rope or on a trampoline may be alright. 
  2. Excessive flexing. Weights exercises such as full squats and leg press are a "no, no" for sure! 
  3. Anything that involves quick movements such as pivoting. Basically including the sports mentioned in #1. 
  4. Refrain from downhill running when you can.
  5. Ladies, I'm sorry but high heels can worsen bad knees! Wah, wah...
Take care of your body!! You only get one. If something hurts, stop. No exercise is worth injuring yourself!! 

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As always, please consult a doctor if you are in severe  or sustained moderate pain. The advice in this post does not replace the instruction of a trained medical provider or physical therapist. Similarly, if you are recovering from an injury/surgery, please consult with your treatment team regarding safe exercises. 


  1. i just started swimming laps on my lunch break so this was great advice!

  2. Great tips! I'm a member of the bad knee club too, thanks to yoga, of all things. I generally walk or hit the elliptical for cardio, and my trainer has suggested weighted extensions, which I do regularly. When doing the leg extensions, it's important to fully extend, but not allow your knee to bend all the way back into resting. They're kind of like 1/2 extensions, where you never fully let your leg rest. They're great for strengthening the knee muscles, which hold your patella in place (good if you suffer from runner's knee).

  3. these are so great! I go for runs in the morning and a boot camp class once a week but my knees due tend to get a bit sore, I must try those knee stregnthening excerices!

  4. Great post, Krystle!!! I don't have knee problems, but I did break my back when I was 15, so I sometimes have issues with that. I really like to swim laps and use the elliptical when I get the chance. Great tip about putting conditioner in your hair before swimming- I do that, too! :)

  5. I am addicted to the elliptical! I wish I could swim more because it's great for my knees, but I hate wearing a one piece. Boo!

  6. I agree about yoga! When I was having really bad knee and hip problems about 3 years ago, yoga helped a lot.

  7. If I do squats with any type of weight added, my knees kill me for a couple of days. Running does the same thing. I don't necessarily need to be careful of what exercises I do; I just have to avoid those. Yoga has really helped the flexibility and strength in my knees. It is a nice, low impact, relaxing exercise to do for them. @GlamKitten88

  8. This was great - thank you!

  9. Good tips. Love walking. Leslie Sansone is a good dvd series for walking at home.
    I like using ankle weights and do leg lifts on each leg to build up my thigh muscles.


  10. YAY! Thanks for the workout! I hadn't thought about swimming, but it's about that time to get in the pool. That seems to be the best workout for me at the moment :)

    Thanks so much for posting this!!


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